Guide to Small Business Startup Loans

Man working on a puzzle

It takes money to make money and virtually any small business will require some startup capital to get up and running. While the personal savings of the founders is likely the most common source of startup funding, many startups also employ loans to provide seed capital. New enterprises with no established credit cannot get loans as easily from many sources, but startup loans are available for entrepreneurs who know where to look. Here are some of those places to look, plus ways to supplement loans. For help with loans and any other financial questions you have, consider working with a financial advisor.

Startup Loans: Preparing to Borrow

Before starting to look for a startup loan, the primary question for the entrepreneur is how much he or she needs to borrow. The size of the loan is a key factor in determining where funding is likely to be available. Some sources will only fund very small loans, for example, while others will only deal with borrowers seeking sizable amounts.

The founder’s personal credit history is another important element. Because the business has no previous history of operating, paying bills or borrowing money and paying it back, the likelihood of any loan is likely to hinge on the founder’s credit score. The founder is also likely to have to personally guarantee the loan, so the amount and size of personal financial resources is another factor.

Business documents that may be needed to apply include a business plan, financial projections and a description of how funds will be used.

Startup Loan Types

There are a number of ways to obtain startup loans. Here are several of them.

Personal loan – A personal loan is another way to get seed money. Using a personal loan to fund a startup could be a good idea for business owners who have good credit and don’t require a lot of money to bootstrap their operation. However, personal loans tend to carry a higher interest rate than business loans and the amount banks are willing to lend may not be enough.

Loans from friends and family – This can work for an entrepreneur who has access to well-heeled relatives and comrades. Friends and family are not likely to be as demanding as other sources of loans when it comes to credit scores. However, if a startup is unable to repay a loan from a friend or relative, the result can be a damaged relationship as well as a failed business.

Venture capitalists – While these people typically take equity positions in startups their investments are often structured as loans. Venture capitalists can provide more money than friends and family. However, they often take an active hand in managing their investments so founders may need to be ready to surrender considerable control.

SBA loan applicationGovernment-backed startup loans – These are available through programs administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Small Business Administration (SBA) as well as, to a lesser degree, the Interior, Agriculture and Treasury departments. Borrowers apply for these through affiliated private financial institutions, including banks. LenderMatch is a tool startup businesses use to find these affiliated private financial institutions. Government-guaranteed loans charge lower interest rates and are easier to qualify for than non-guaranteed bank loans.

Bank loans – These are the most popular form of business funding, and they offer attractive interest rates and bankers don’t try to take control as venture investors might. However, banks are reluctant to lend to new businesses without a track record. Using a bank to finance a startup generally means taking out a personal loan, which means the owner will need a good personal credit score and be ready to put up collateral to secure approval.

Credit cards – Using credit cards to fund a new business is easy, quick and requires little paperwork. However, interest rates and penalties are high and the amount of money that can be raised is limited.

Self-funding – Rather than simply putting money into the business that he or she owns, the founder can structure the cash infusion as a loan that the business will pay back. One potential benefit of this is that interest paid to the owner for the loan can be deducted from future profits, reducing the business’s tax burden.

Alternatives to Startup Loans

Crowdfunding – This lets entrepreneurs use social media to reach large numbers of private individuals, borrowing small amounts from each to reach the critical mass required to get a new business up and running. As with friends and family, credit history isn’t likely to be a big concern. However, crowdfunding works best with businesses that have a new product that requires funding to complete design and begin production.

Nonprofits and community organizations – These groups engage in microfinancing. Getting a grant from one of these groups an option for a startup that requires a small amount, from a few hundred to a few tens of thousands of dollars. If you need more, one of the other channels is likely to be a better bet.

The Bottom Line

Green plant growing out of a jar of coinsStartup businesses seeking financing have a number of options for getting a loan. While it is often difficult for a brand-new company to get a conventional business bank loan, friends and family, venture investors, government-backed loan programs, crowdfunding, microloans and credit cards may provide solutions. The size of the loan amount and the personal credit history and financial assets of the founder are likely to be important in determining which financing channel is most appropriate.

Tips on Funding a Startup

  • If you are searching for a way to fund a business startup, consider working with an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One way to minimize the challenge of getting startup funding is to take a “lean startup” approach. That approach could be especially helpful to baby boomers, who are “aging out” of their careers and living longer than earlier generations but still need (or want) an income. Learn how many of them are turning their retirement into business opportunities.

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15 Tips for Working From Home – Increase Productivity & Avoid Distractions

Staying on task in a home-office workspace that includes kids, instant access to social networks, and an infinite number of other distractions can be tough. Here’s how you can increase your productivity and avoid the endless distractions that present themselves when working at home.

15 Tips for Working From Home – Increase Productivity & Avoid Distractions is a post from Money Crashers.

Source: moneycrashers.com

How Equipment Financing for Businesses Works

Three forklifts at a warehouseFinancing the purchase of essential equipment lets businesses preserve cash for working capital, hiring staff, expanding marketing efforts or other purposes. Equipment financing can be done with term loans, SBA-backed loans, lines of credit and credit cards. Equipment loans are generally easier to get than other forms of financing and may require no down payment, since the loan will be secured by the equipment being purchased. If you’re not sure which option to take, consider talking to a financial advisor experienced in this area.

Many sorts of businesses use financing to acquire a variety of equipment types. Construction companies finance the purchase of bulldozers and cranes, restaurants finance refrigerators and ovens, fitness centers finance workout machines and computers to run their offices, to name a few.

Loans may be any amount up to the value of the equipment, with 100% loan-to-value financing, although 20% down payments could be required. Interest rates range from under 5% to more than 30%, with repayment terms extending 10 years or more, up to the useful life of the equipment. Approval for an equipment financing request often depends on the business credit score, size of the down payment and the existence of a business plan documenting cash flow projections adequate to repay the borrowed sum

Types of Equipment Financing

Businesses obtain equipment financing from a number of sources, including traditional banks large and small, online lenders, SBA-affiliated lenders and credit cards.

Term loans. Local and national banks and online lenders make equipment loans of one to 10 years in length for up to 100% of the equipment value, at interest rates ranging from 4% to 25%. Banks favor loans to established businesses with good credit scores and well-documented repayment plans. Online lenders have more flexible guidelines but also may charge higher rates and fees.

Small Business Administration 504 loans. These government-guaranteed loans are made by nonprofit Certified Development Company (CDC) lenders certified by the SBA. Known as 504 loans, they can only be for up to 40% of the cost of acquiring fixed assets, and require 10% down by the borrower, with a private lender providing the remaining 40%.

Lines of credit. Revolving lines of credit arranged through banks or online lenders can be set up in advance and used to purchase equipment as needed. Borrowers only pay for funds they have actually borrowed through the line of credit, and monthly payments may vary with changes in the balance owed. Lines of credit usually don’t require collateral or down payments but have higher interest rates than loans.

Credit cards. Business credit cards are easy to get as long as a business has a good credit score and some operating history. The application process is simple and funds are available immediately upon approval. Some other loans may take days or weeks before funding. However, the amount that can be tapped with a credit card is limited and rates and fees are higher than alternatives.

Equipment Leasing

Commercial refrigeratorBusinesses that lack the credit score, operating history or down payment needed to qualify for a loan or other purchase financing can acquire equipment by leasing it. Leasing requires no down payment and approval is much easier to get than when requesting a loan. Monthly lease payments may be less than a loan payment would be, freeing up additional cash. And when the lease term is up, the business can return the equipment without owing any more.

The downside of leasing is that it ultimately can cost more than buying. While monthly lease payments could be lower than loan payments, the total of lease payments may be more than the amount of all the loan payments. Also, while there is no down payment, the business won’t own the equipment at the end of the lease.

The Bottom Line

Mobile craneEquipment financing gives businesses access to essential machinery, fixtures, furniture and other assets without the need to devote large sums of cash to outright purchase. Equipment loans are available from a variety of sources, including government-guaranteed loans, and are generally easier to get than other forms of financing. Be sure to avoid taking out equipment loans with terms that exceed the useful life of the asset. Otherwise, you risk being on the hook to make payments on a piece of equipment that has already been retired or scrapped. With this in mind, leasing may be a better option than buying for equipment that quickly becomes obsolete.

Tips for Small Businesses   

  • Before signing a loan or arranging for another way to finance an equipment purchase, consider talking it over with an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • How you finance equipment can affect your taxes. Tax rules for independent contractors differ from what a traditional employee experiences, but they’re not overly complicated. Getting familiar with the basics can make filing your taxes as an independent contractor easier to navigate.

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14 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Payroll Provider for Your Business

This is a sponsored post on behalf of QuickBooks Payroll. If your business pays employees or contractors – even if it’s a sole proprietorship or microbusiness with no traditional employees other than you – it’s time to look into a small-business payroll provider. You need a professional payroll partner if you: Elect to tax your […]

14 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Payroll Provider for Your Business is a post from Money Crashers.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The 2020 Tax Deadline Is July 15—Here’s What You Need to Know

A woman has her laptop sitting on her table before her as she looks on the screen.

Still scrambling to get your taxes done? Don’t worry—this year’s tax season is a bit longer than usual. While the tax deadline has traditionally been April 15, the 2020 tax deadline has been extended to July 15 due to COVID-19. 

What does that mean for you and your taxes? We’ve got information you need to know about this year’s tax deadline. 

Is the Tax Deadline Extension for Everyone?

According to the IRS, the tax deadline extension applies to individual returns as well as corporate and trust returns. And because this extension is automatic, you won’t have to fill out any additional forms to qualify.

Also, keep in mind is that this tax deadline extension is for federal taxes. State taxes, on the other hand, might have a different deadline. So you’ll probably want to check your state tax deadline, just to be sure. 

What About Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments?

Are you a freelancer? Do you own a business? That means you’ll have to make quarterly estimated tax payments this year. According to the IRS website, here are the deadlines:

  • If your payment period was January 1 – March 31, your tax deadline is July 15
  • If your payment period was April 1 – May 31, your tax deadline is July 15
  • If your payment period was June 1 – August 31, your tax deadline is September 15
  • If your payment period was September 1 – December 31, your tax deadline is January 15, 2021

What Should I Do Before the Tax Deadline?

If you were a bit behind on filing your taxes this year, the good news is you have a bit more time. Here are some things you should do before the July 15 tax deadline comes around.

Make Sure You Have Everything—Yes, Everything

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to get all your documents in one place. And yes, we mean everything. When it comes to your taxes, you don’t want to leave anything out. It could cause a huge headache later on. 

Make sure you have the following:

  • Personal information for both you and your dependents
  • Income and investment documents
  • Medical bill receipts
  • Business and self-employment records
  • Charitable donations
  • Homeownership records

Decide If You’ll Do Your Taxes Yourself or If You’ll Hire a Professional

Taxes aren’t easy. And they can take a lot of time. If you don’t have a whole afternoon to dedicate to doing your taxes, you might want to hire a professional to do them for you. It could be nice to have someone who has a sound understanding of tax rules and regulations to take care of your taxes for you.

But if you can’t fit the expense of hiring a professional into your budget, you can definitely do your taxes yourself. A lot of people file their taxes themselves, so why can’t you? Luckily, there are a lot of tools out there that’ll help you file your taxes for free.

Whichever you decide, make your choice now. You want to get started a few months in advance of the tax deadline, just in case. Better safe than sorry!

Make a Plan for Your Tax Return

No matter how much you’ll get in your tax return, it can’t hurt to have a plan for how you’ll use it. Due to the financial uncertainty from COVID-19, it couldn’t hurt to put a good amount of your tax return in your savings. And since unemployment is on the rise, it could be a nice cushion to fall back on if you find yourself without a job.

Your tax return could also come in handy if you have any major bills to pay. No matter how you decide to use your tax return, make sure you use it in a way that’s useful to you.

The Bottom Line

Take advantage of the 2020 tax deadline extension. It’s not an excuse to put off your taxes later, but it is a great opportunity to give yourself a little more time to complete your taxes. If you want to learn more about how COVID-19 can impact your finances in general, check out our COVID-19 Financial Resource Guide.  


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Wealth Tax: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons

Man holding large wad of bills

A wealth tax is a type of tax that’s imposed on the net wealth of an individual. This is different from income tax, which is the type of tax you’re likely most used to paying. The U.S. currently doesn’t have a wealth tax, though the idea has been proposed more than once by lawmakers. Instituting a wealth tax could help generate revenue for the government but only a handful of countries actually impose one.

Wealth Tax, Definition

A wealth tax is what it sounds like: a tax on wealth. This can also be referred to as an equity tax or a capital tax and it applies to individuals.

More specifically, a wealth tax is applied to someone’s net worth, meaning their total assets minus their total liabilities. The types of assets that may be subject to inclusion in wealth tax calculations might include real estate, investment accounts, liquid savings and trust accounts.

A wealth tax isn’t the same as other types of tax you’re probably familiar with paying. For example, you might be used to paying income tax on the money you earn each year, self-employment tax if you run a business or work as an independent contractor, property taxes on your home or vehicles and sales tax on the things you buy.

Instead, a wealth tax has just one focus: taxing a person’s wealth. According to the Tax Foundation, only Norway, Spain and Switzerland currently have a net wealth tax on assets. But a handful of other European countries, including Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, levy a wealth tax on selected assets.

How a Wealth Tax Works

Uncle Sam picks a rich man's coat pocketGenerally, a wealth tax works by taxing a person’s net worth, rather than the income they earn in a given year. In countries that impose a wealth tax, the tax is only levied once assets reach a certain minimum threshold. In Norway, for instance, the net wealth tax is 0.85% on stocks exceeding $164,000 USD in value.

Wealth taxes can be applied to all of the assets someone owns or just some of them. For example, the wealth tax can include securities and investment accounts while excluding real property or vice versa.

Every country that imposes a wealth tax, whether it’s a net tax or a tax on selected assets, can set the tax rate differently. It’s not uncommon for there to be exemptions or exclusions to who and what can be taxed this way.

A wealth tax can be charged alongside an income tax to help generate revenue for the government. The wealth tax rates are typically lower than income tax rates, in terms of the actual percentage rate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean paying less in taxes. Someone who has substantial assets that are subject to a wealth tax, for instance, may end up paying more toward that tax than income tax if they’re able to reduce their taxable income by claiming tax breaks.

Is a Wealth Tax a Good Idea?

In countries that use a wealth tax, the revenue helps to fund government programs and organizations. In some places, such as Norway, revenue from the wealth tax is split between the central government and municipal governments. It would be up to the federal government to decide how wealth tax revenue should be allocated if one were introduced here.

In the U.S., the concept of a wealth tax has been used to argue for a redistribution of wealth. Or more specifically, lawmakers who back the tax have suggested that it could be used to more fairly tax the wealthy while relieving some of the tax burdens on lower and middle-income earners. While wealthier taxpayers may take advantage of loopholes to minimize income taxes, a wealth tax would be harder to work around, at least in theory. That could yield benefits for less wealthy Americans if it means they’d owe fewer taxes.

That sounds good but implementing and collecting a wealth tax may be easier said than done. It’s possible that even with a wealth tax in place, high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth taxpayers could still find ways to minimize the amount of tax they’d owe. And the tax itself could be seen as unfairly penalizing wealthier individuals who own charities or foundations, invest heavily in businesses or save and invest their money instead of using it to buy things like luxury cars, expensive homes or other physical assets.

It’s important to keep in mind that a wealth tax is targeted at people above certain wealth thresholds, so most everyday Americans wouldn’t have to pay it. But it could cause problems for someone who unexpectedly receives a large inheritance that increases his wealth, even if his income remains at the lower end of the scale.

The Bottom Line

Rich man in his private jet

In the U.S., the wealth tax is still just an idea that’s being floated by progressive politicians and lawmakers. Whether a wealth tax is ever implemented remains to be seen and it’s likely that debate over it may continue for years to come. And enforcing one could be difficult if it were ever introduced, if for no other reason than there are many ways for the extremely wealthy to avoid taxes. In the meantime, talking with a tax professional may be the best way to manage your own personal tax liability.

Tips on Taxes

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about the best ways to handle taxes as you grow an investment portfolio. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors online. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized financial advisor recommendations. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Managing taxes is an important part of growing wealth and creating an estate plan. The less you pay in taxes, the more money you have to save and invest toward establishing a legacy of wealth. A free income tax calculator is a good way to start figuring what you owe or to get confirmation that  your calculations are correct.

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Should You Transfer Balances to No-Interest Credit Cards Multiple Times?

Karen, our editor at Quick and Dirty Tips, has a friend named Heather who listens to the Money Girl podcast and has a money question. She thought it would be a great podcast topic and sent it to me. 

Heather says:

I had a financial crisis and ended up with a $2,500 balance on my new credit card, which had a no-interest promotion for 18 months when I got it. That promotional rate is going to expire in a couple of months. I have good credit, and I keep getting offers from other card companies for zero-interest balance transfer promotions. Would it be a good idea to apply for another card and transfer my balance so I don't have to pay any interest? Are there any downsides that I should watch out for?

Thanks, Karen and Heather! That's a terrific question. I'm sure many podcast listeners and readers also wonder if it's a good idea to transfer a balance multiple times. 

This article will explain balance transfer credit cards, how they make paying off high-interest debt easier, and tips to handle them the right way. You'll learn some pros and cons of doing multiple balance transfers and mistakes to avoid.

What is a balance transfer credit card or offer?

A balance transfer credit card is also known as a no-interest or zero-interest credit card. It's a card feature that includes an offer for you to transfer balances from other accounts and save money for a limited period.

You typically pay an annual percentage rate (APR) of 0% during a promotional period ranging from 6 to 18 months. In general, you'll need good credit to qualify for the best transfer deals.

Every transfer offer is different because it depends on the issuer and your financial situation; however, the longer the promotional period, the better. You don't accrue one penny of interest until the promotion expires.

However, you typically must pay a one-time transfer fee in the range of 2% to 5%. For example, if you transfer $1,000 to a card with a 2% transfer fee, you'll be charged $20, which increases your debt to $1,020. So, choose a transfer card with the lowest transfer fee and no annual fee, when possible.

When you get approved for a new balance transfer card, you get a credit limit, just like you do with other credit cards. You can only transfer amounts up to that limit. 

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%!

You can use a transfer card for just about any type of debt, such as credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans. The issuer may give you the option to have funds deposited into your bank account so that you can send it to the creditor of your choice. Or you might be asked to complete an online form indicating who to pay, the account number, and the amount so that the transfer card company can pay it on your behalf.

Once the transfer is complete, the debt balance moves over to your transfer card account, and any transfer fee gets added. But even though no interest accrues to your account, you must still make monthly minimum payments throughout the promotional period.

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%! That could easily wipe out any benefits you hoped to gain by doing a balance transfer in the first place.

How does a balance transfer affect your credit?

A common question about balance transfers is how they affect your credit. One of the most significant factors in your credit scores is your credit utilization ratio. It's the amount of debt you owe on revolving accounts (such as credit cards and lines of credit) compared to your available credit limits. 

For example, if you have $2,000 on a credit card and $8,000 in available credit, you're using one-quarter of your limit and have a 25% credit utilization ratio. This ratio gets calculated for each of your revolving accounts and as a total on all of them.  

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

I recommend using no more than 20% of your available credit to build or maintain optimal credit scores. Having a low utilization shows that you can use credit responsibly without maxing out your accounts.

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

Likewise, the opposite is true when you close a credit card or a line of credit. So, if you transfer a card balance and close the old account, it reduces your available credit, which spikes your utilization ratio and causes your credit scores to drop. 

Only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your credit scores take a dip.

So, only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your scores take a dip. A better decision may be to file away a card or use it sparingly for purchases you pay off in full each month.

Another factor that plays a small role in your credit scores is the number of recent inquiries for new credit. Applying for a new transfer card typically causes a slight, short-term dip in your credit. Having a temporary ding on your credit usually isn't a problem, unless you have plans to finance a big purchase, such as a house or car, within the next six months.

The takeaway is that if you don't close a credit card after transferring a balance to a new account, and you don't apply for other new credit accounts around the same time, the net effect should raise your credit scores, not hurt them.

RELATED: When to Cancel a Credit Card? 10 Dos and Don’ts to Follow

When is using a balance transfer credit card a good idea?

I've done many zero-interest balance transfers because they save money when used correctly. It's a good strategy if you can pay off the balance before the offer's expiration date. 

Let's say you're having a good year and expect to receive a bonus within a few months that you can use to pay off a credit card balance. Instead of waiting for the bonus to hit your bank account, you could use a no-interest transfer card. That will cut the amount of interest you must pay during the card's promotional period.

When should you do multiple balance transfers?

But what if you're like Heather and won't pay off a no-interest promotional offer before it ends? Carrying a balance after the promotion means your interest rate goes back up to the standard rate, which could be higher than what you paid before the transfer. So, doing another transfer to defer interest for an additional promotional period can make sense. 

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game.

However, it may only be possible if you're like Heather and have good credit to qualify. Balance transfer cards and promotions are typically only offered to consumers with good or excellent credit.

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game. And don't forget about the transfer fee you typically must pay that gets added to your outstanding balance. While avoiding interest is a good move, creating a solid plan to pay down your debt is even better.

If you have a goal to pay off your card balance and find reasonable transfer offers, there's no harm in using a balance transfer to cut interest while you regroup. 

Advantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are several advantages of using a balance transfer credit card.

  • Reducing your interest. That's the point of transferring debt, so you save money for a limited period, even after paying a transfer fee.
  • Paying off debt faster. If you put the extra savings from doing a transfer toward your balance, you can eliminate it more quickly.
  • Boosting your credit. This is a nice side effect if you open a new balance transfer card and instantly have more available credit in your name, which lowers your credit utilization ratio.

Disadvantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are some cons for doing a balance transfer. 

  • Paying a fee. It's standard with most cards, which charge in the range of 2% to 5% per transfer.
  • Paying higher interest. When the promotion ends, your rate will vary by issuer and your financial situation, but it could spike dramatically. 
  • Giving up student loan benefits. This is a downside if you're considering using a transfer card to pay off federal student loans that come with repayment or forgiveness options. Once the debt gets transferred to a credit card, the loan benefits, including a tax deduction on interest, no longer apply. 

Tips for using a balance transfer credit card wisely

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires.

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires. Or be sure that the interest rate will be reasonable after the promotion ends.

Shifting a high-interest debt to a no-interest transfer account is a smart way to save money. It doesn't make your debt disappear, but it does make it less expensive for a period.

If you can save money during the promotional period, despite any balance transfer fees, you'll come out ahead. And if you plow your savings back into your balance, instead of spending it, you'll get out of debt faster than you thought possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Homeowners Get a Tax Credit for Buying a House

tax credit for buying a house

 

Being a homeowner comes with all kinds of pros and cons that don’t come with renting. You have a yard, but you have to care for the yard. You have a payment, but you get to deduct your mortgage interest on your tax return! And while the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced or eliminated many of the benefits homeowners used to enjoy, there are a few tax deductions you, as a homeowner, can still claim on your 2018 income taxes, including:

  • Home mortgage points
  • Property tax expenses
  • Mortgage insurance costs

American homeownership has long been subsidized by tax savings, and if your real estate agent didn’t tell you about them, we cover some here or an accountant or tax preparer can tell you more.

“The path to owning a home has a great deal of tax benefits, and a discussion with your tax professional will help to clarify the details,” says William Slade, a certified financial planner in California and enrolled agent licensed by the IRS.

Slade says he is regularly asked if home improvements, such as adding rooms, remodeling and landscaping help reduce taxes. “They don’t when they’re first done, but they may help when the property is sold by increasing the cost basis and lowering the gains tax on the sale,” he says.

Changes for the 2018 Tax Year

New homeowners should know that things have shifted a bit for the 2018 tax year. The standard home mortgage interest point deduction has been modified by the TCJA. More on that lower down.

What hasn’t shifted is that you still have to itemize income tax deductions in Schedule A in order to claim a deduction on home mortgage interest. Schedule A is more complicated than the standard deduction, which you may have taken in previous years. But the savings can make it worth doing.

Itemized deductions for new homeowners include more than just mortgage interest though. Property taxes, private mortgage insurance costs and even charitable contributions can be deducted. To get your mortgage interest deduction, you have to itemize with Schedule A. You can add up these other deductions there and get a bigger overall tax reduction.

Sadly, the previous moving expenses deduction is gone for all but those on active military duty. So, if you just moved in this past year and aren’t serving your country, too bad. No added deduction for you.

Tax Deductions Available for Homeowners

Tax breaks help cushion the impact of mortgage payments. So, take full advantage of those available to you.

The Mortgage Loan Interest Deduction

Mortgage points are prepaid interest on home mortgages. Under the home mortgage points deduction, mortgage loan interest is tax deductible if you itemize. The TCJA capped the deduction on interest paid on up to $750,000 for a qualified home loan taken out after December 15, 2017. Loans taken out before that date still qualify for up to $1,000,000 of deductible interest—the previous cap. Note:  if you use the Married Filing Separately status, you can only claim half of that amount on your own return.

When you itemize your deductions, you can add your mortgage loan interest to the list if you purchased the home before December 15, 2017.  The deduction applies for up to $1 million for loans that you used to improve the home or buy a new home. Purchases made after this date can only deduct interest on $750,000 of the home acquisition debt. This is down $250,000 from previous years. These new tax laws are set to expire in 2025, and after that point, the $1 million limit may return.

Property Tax Deduction

State and local property taxes are still deductible on your federal tax return under the state and local taxes deductions, known as the SALT deduction. TCJA modified this one. For the 2018 tax year, the amount you can claim for your property taxes is limited to $10,000. For many taxpayers, that still covers you well. For those in states with high property taxes, it could dampen deductions considerably.

Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction

Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is deductible still. There are changes here too though. PMI is used by people whose home loan or refinance loan is 80% or more of the purchase price, AKA their down payment lower than 20%.

To deduct your PMI for the 2018 tax year:

  • Your loan had to be taken out in 2007 or later
  • The home has to be your primary residence or a second home that you’re renting out
  • Your adjusted gross income (AGI) has been less than $109,000 for any deduction and lower than $100,000 for the full deduction—you can use Schedule A to calculate your deduction amount

Energy Credits

Another lesser-known credit for a homeowner is the energy tax credit, called the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit. This deduction is getting reduced through 2021 but can be claimed using Form 5695. This tax credit is limited to 10% of the cost of your qualifying energy. Items that qualify under this credit include skylights, insulation systems, and certain qualifying appliances like water heaters and central air conditioners. Some restrictions apply.

You can also take advantage of the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This one is a credit for using solar, wind, fuel-cell and geothermal energy sources, including solar water heaters.

The Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit can be used to deduct 30% of the cost of solar, wind, fuel-cell and geothermal equipment at your main home or wind, solar and geothermal equipment at a second home. The deduction is unlimited for all but fuel-cells, which are capped at $500 per each half-kilowatt of capacity or $1,000 per kilowatt.

How Much Can Homeowners Really Save?

The amount of money you can save on your annual income taxes depends on a number of factors including filing status, standard deduction amount, the other itemized deductions you’re claiming and total taxable income. Total savings are a mystery until you itemize while doing your tax forms.

There are also things you can’t deduct when filing your taxes too. These items include any dues you pay to your homeowner’s association, the home owner’s insurance on your home, the appraisal fees you paid when buying your home and the cost of nonenergy-related improvements. Some home improvements can reduce your taxes when you sell your home, but you’ll need to keep good records of everything and hold onto the receipts.

This article was originally published February 23, 2013, and has since been updated by another author.

Image: iStockphoto

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How to Maximize Your Tax Return for a Bigger Refund

Note: Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the IRS has extended the federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. The recent relief package passed by Congress may have additional tax implications. Please contact a tax adviser for information you may need to complete your taxes this year. Learn more.

It’s finally spring—cue the flowers, warm weather and all-around greenery. And tax season. Sure, you could get a nice tax refund. Or you could put all that work into your taxes and get barely anything.

Luckily for you, we’ve got a few tips on how to maximize your tax return. We want to make sure that you avoid mistakes on your taxes. If you don’t you might end up paying even moretaxes than you have to or under-reporting your income and paying interest and penalties later.

We don’t want that to happen. This year, follow these easy ways that can help you maximize your tax return.

1. Don’t Leave Money on the Table

If you forget to use all of your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) dollars or don’t make contributions to your individual retirement and 529 accounts, you could leave money on the table. You have until December 31 to use money in your FSA or contribute to a 529 account. Some states even allow deductions for 529 contributions.

You can also make contributions to your traditional and Roth IRAs for the 2019 tax year has been extended to July 15, 2020.  For the 2019 tax year, you can contribute a total of $6,000 to IRAs.

Wondering how you can maximize your 2020 refund? If you’re ready to start working on maximizing your return for next year, consider how much you can contribute to retirement plans in 2020. You can contribute up to $19,500 to 401(k) plans.

Choosing to not file a return because your income for 2019 might also mean you’re leaving money on the table. Just because your income doesn’t require you to file doesn’t mean you’re not due a refund. And if you’re eligible for a refund, you have to file a return to get it. In 2018, the IRS reported it had $1.1 billion of unclaimed refunds from an estimated 1 million taxpayers who didn’t file in 2014 alone.

2. Claim All Available Deductions, Including Charitable Contributions

Dig into all deductions available to you. Some of the more common deductions include charitable donations, medical costs, prepaid interest on a mortgage and education expenses. Deductions are subtracted from your adjusted gross income, which lowers your actual taxable income.

Your taxable income is the amount you pay taxes on. The lower your taxable income, the less tax you pay and the higher refund you might receive.

If you’re charitably inclined and itemize your deductions, you can maximize your return by taking advantage of donations in all forms—cash and goods. That means you can claim the value of those clothes donated to a local church drive, for example.

Be sure to keep good records and receipts. Also, make sure that you’re only claiming deductions for organizations that have tax-exempt status with the IRS.

3. Use the Best Filing Status

What’s your best filing status? If you have a tax preparer, make sure you update them on any life changes you’ve had, such as getting married or divorced. Your relationship status on December 31 determines your filing status for the entire year and is the one you need to use when filing that year’s tax return. Options include:

  • Single
  • Head of household
  • Married, filing jointly
  • Married, filing separately
  • Qualifying widower

Whether or not you can file head of household, which comes with some tax benefits, is one of the more confusing questions. To file as a head of household, you must:

  • Be unmarried or considered unmarried on Dec. 31 of the relevant tax year
  • Paid more than half of the costs associated with keeping and maintaining your home during the tax year
  • Have a qualifying person, such as a child or other dependent, living with you for at least half the year

If you could technically file with two different statuses—like if you could file single and head of household—you might try calculating your taxes with both to find out which is in your best interest. This could mean checking to see if your refund changes whether you file as single or head of household or whether you file as married jointly or separately. Just don’t actually file your taxes until you make a decision, as you can only file once.

4. Report All Your Income

Some people fail to report all their income on their return. This oversight—intentional or not—can cost you. If you have unreported income and the IRS uncovers it, you’re looking at interest and penalties for unpaid taxes.

Sadly, you won’t get a free pass when you make an honest mistake. So spend a few extra minutes reviewing your return. Think through the year and your accounts to make sure you don’t forget any income sources. It’s often 1099 income that’s overlooked—things like contract work, interest income and dividends.

It can be helpful to keep a spreadsheet of all of your tax information—including sources of income, 1099s, charitable gifts and IRA and 529 contributions. Update it each year to help avoid missing things during tax prep. You’re less likely to forget about a 1099 if it’s listed in your prior year’s tax information.

5. Meet the Deadlines

Your 2019 federal tax return must be electronically filed or postmarked by July 15, 2020. The only exception is if you file an extension, which must be filed or postmarked by that date. An extension buys you through mid-October to file your return without penalties. However, you will still owe interest for any tax that was owed by July 15 and not paid.

What Happens if You Don’t File Your Tax Return on Time?

The IRS charges a number of penalties, including one for failing to file in a timely manner. It equates to 5% of your unpaid taxes and is charged for each month your return is late up to five months. And if you file more than 60 days late, you can be hit with a minimum penalty amount if even if you don’t owe any taxes.

If you don’t pay your taxes on time, the IRS charges penalties and interest on it. The total amount you might end up owing depends on how much tax you owe and how long it’s outstanding.

6. Check Your Math

It sounds a little obvious, but year after year, math or number errors are among the most common mistakes. When you’re filling out your tax forms, go slowly and double-check your numbers and math. A lot of mathematical errors can be avoided if you’re using tax software that does the calculating for you. If you find the entire process daunting, consider working with a tax preparer or accountant to help reduce these types of errors.

7. Check Your Bank Account Details

If you plan to use direct deposit to receive your refund, double check the bank account information you provide. If you enter the wrong account information, you won’t receive your refund as you planned. And getting things straightened out can be a pain.

If You Have to Refile a Tax Return

If you find you made a mistake after filing your tax return, make the necessary corrections as soon as possible. You need to file an amended return if you made mistakes regarding your filing status, dependents, income, deductions or credits. Form 1040X is used to file the corrected return, and it has to be done on paper rather than digitally. Amended returns must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two years from the point you paid any taxes owed for that tax year.

For more information about filing your taxes or to find answers to other common tax questions, check out the Tax Learning Center.

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A Comprehensive Guide to 2020 Tax Credits

Couple preparing tax returnsEvery year, people’s lives change in ways that affect their taxes. They may start a higher education program or have a child, and others take on elderly parents as dependents. These situations can change their eligibility for tax credits. In addition, federal, state and local governments sometimes adjust rules about credits, so it is crucial to understand what credits you can take. Navigating the world of tax credits and deductions can be confusing. That is why a trusted financial advisor can help you find every tax credit you are entitled to.

What a Tax Credit Is (and Isn’t)

Tax credits encourage people to spend money by giving them credit toward that expense. For example, one of the most common tax credits is the Child Tax Credit. Taxpayers who have children under the age of 17 receive a credit to help reduce the cost of raising a child. Another popular tax credit is the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). The LLC encourages people to pursue further education by crediting part of the overall cost back at tax time.

A tax deduction lowers one’s taxable income, thus reducing the tax liability. If a person receives a deduction, he decreases the amount from his income, which lowers his taxable income. The lower a person’s taxable income, the lower the tax bill.

By contrast, a tax credit decreases the tax bill rather than a person’s taxable income. So, if a person has a $100,000 salary and has a $10,000 deduction, the taxable income will be $90,000. If the person in this example is taxed at a rate of 25%, the tax bill will be $22,500. If that same person has a $10,000 credit instead of a deduction, he will be taxed at 25% of their $100,000 income and owe $25,000 in taxes. However, he will then be credited $10,000 and owe only $15,000.

Some tax credits are refundable, but most are not. A refundable tax credit, which is different from a tax refund, can be given to taxpayers even if they do not owe any taxes. Additionally, a refundable tax credit can be given in addition to a tax refund. A nonrefundable tax credit means that a person will get the tax credit up to the amount owed. For example, if a person owes $2,000 in taxes and receives $3,000 in nonrefundable credits, that will simply erase her tax bill. If she gets $3,000 in refundable credits, she will receive a $1,000 tax refund.

Some common tax credits for individuals include:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Credit for Other Dependents
  • Adoption Credit
  • Low-Income Housing Credit
  • Premium Tax Credit (Affordable Care Act)
  • American Opportunity Credit
  • Lifetime Learning Credit

Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit up to $1,400 and offers up to $2,000 per qualifying child age 16 or younger. Parents of children who are 16 or younger as of Dec. 31, 2020, can qualify for this tax credit. For someone to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit, the modified adjusted gross income must be under $400,000 if the parents of the child(ren) file jointly and $200,000 for any other person filing.

Additional requirements to qualify for the child tax credit include that the person filing must have provided at least half of the child’s support in the calendar year, and the child must have lived with the person filing for at least half the year. There are some exceptions to this rule, and it is best to discuss the child tax credit with a tax advisor.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

The cost of childcare, eldercare and other in-home care in the U.S. is high and tends to rise each year. If a couple is married and files jointly and has paid expenses for the care of a qualifying child or dependent so that one or both can work, they are likely eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

To qualify for the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the taxpayers must have received taxable income. This is because the credit is designed to help individuals who need to hire a caretaker to stay in the workplace.

Additionally, there are several qualifiers on the person being cared for. A child must be under age 13 when the care was provided. A qualifying spouse must be unable to take care of himself and have lived in the taxpayer’s home for at least half the year. A qualifying dependent must be physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself, have lived with the taxpayer for at least half the year and is either a dependent or could have been a dependent of the taxpayer. A taxpayer can claim up to $3,000 of expenses for one child or dependent and up to $6,000 for two or more children or dependents.

There are limits on who can provide care to qualify for this tax credit. The caregiver must not have been the taxpayer’s spouse, a parent of the child being cared for or anyone else listed as a dependent on the tax return. Additionally, the caregiver can’t be a child of the taxpayer.

Any child support payments you’ve received won’t be counted as taxable income. And if you’re the one making the child support payments, the income you used to do so won’t be tax deductible.

Federal Adoption Credit

Families that grow through adoption might be eligible for the Federal Adoption Tax Credit. Adoption can be an expensive process, and as families take on the burden of legal fees and more, the Federal Adoption Credit can help to decrease the burden when filing taxes.

To be eligible for the full credit, adoptive parents must earn $214,520 or less, regardless of their filing status. The credit is up to $ 14,300 per eligible child. An eligible child is any person under the age of 18 that is mentally or physically unable to take care of themselves. Eligible expenses include court costs, attorney fees, home studies and other travel expenses related to the adoption. The Federal Adoption credit is nonrefundable, so it will not produce a refund.

There are several rules for the Federal Adoption Credit, so it is important to speak with your tax advisor before claiming this credit. For example, if you received employer-provided adoption benefits, you may not claim the same expenses that were covered by your employer for the Federal Adoption Credit.

Credit for Other Dependents

Form 1040

The Credit for Other Dependents is a tax credit available for taxpayers who do not qualify for the Child Tax Credit. For example, someone who has a child age 17 or older or has other adult dependents with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number might qualify for this credit. This tax credit amount is $500 for each dependent that qualifies for the tax credit. The credit is available in full to a taxpayer who earns $200,000 or less and decreases on a sliding scale as that person’s income increases.

An example of someone eligible for the Credit for Other Dependents is a single person filing who has a child dependent that is 17 years old and another child who is 21 and in college. Both children would likely qualify as dependents, and each would be eligible for the $500 credit. Another example is if someone has an adult relative living with him listed as a dependent on his tax return. In any case, the dependent must be a U.S. citizen, national or resident alien.

Lifetime Learning Credit

To promote education in the United States, the IRS created a tax credit called the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). This credit is for qualified tuition and expenses paid for qualified students at qualified institutions in the United States.

To claim the LLC, a person, their spouse or their dependent must pay qualified higher education expenses. Additionally, the student must be enrolled at an eligible educational institution. Eligible educational institutions are colleges, technical schools and universities offering education beyond high school. All qualified educational institutions are eligible to participate in a student aid program run by the U.S. Department of Education. The IRS publishes a list for people to search if their school is a qualified educational institution.

To receive the LLC, a person must have received a 1098-T tuition statement from the higher education institution. The credit is worth 20% of the first $10,000 that a person spends at the higher education institution. For example, if a person started school at a university in the fall semester and tuition cost $10,000 or more, that person would receive a credit of $2,000. The LLC is not refundable, so a person can use the credit for taxes who owe but will not receive the credit as a refund.

Additionally, the LLC has income limits. In 2020, a person’s income must be $69,000 or lower if filing single and less than $138,000 if filing jointly to receive any of the LLC. To be eligible for the full LLC amounts, a person can earn up to $118,000 filing jointly or $59,000 filing single.

The Retirement Contribution Savings Credit

The Saver’s Credit, or the Retirement Contribution Savings Credit, has been around since the early 2000s. It was created to help low- and moderate-income individuals save for retirement. Depending on a taxpayer’s income, the Saver’s Credit is worth 10%, 20% or 50% of her total savings contribution up to $1,000, or $2,000 if a person is filing jointly.

For example, if a person is filing single, her income qualifies her for the 50% credit tier, and if she contributes $2,000 to an IRA, she can receive a credit of $1,000. The maximum credit is $1,000, so if the same person decides to contribute $2,500 to an IRA, she will still receive a $1,000 tax credit.

Earned Income Tax Credit

An Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduces the tax bills for low- to moderate-income working families. The credit ranges from $538 to $6,660 depending on a taxpayer’s filing status, how many children they have and their earned income. This amount changes every year, so be sure to verify the EITC with a tax advisor or verify with the IRS.

To qualify for the EITC, a taxpayer must have earned taxable income from a company, running a farm or owning a small business. People who do not earn an income, are married filing separately or do not have a Social Security number are not eligible for this credit. Additionally, people who earned over $3,650 in investment income are ineligible for this tax credit.

To earn the maximum EITC, a single filer can earn $50,594 or less, and a joint filer can earn $56,844 or less and have three or more dependent children. The amount of the EITC credit decreases if a taxpayer has fewer children.

American Opportunity Tax Credit

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is available to eligible students in the first four years of higher education. Students must be pursuing a degree or other recognized credential, be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period or semester, not have received the AOTC or the Hope credit for more than the past four years and not have a felony drug conviction at the end of the tax year.

Students may receive up to $2,500 of credit for the AOTC. The credit is refundable up to 40%, so if a student is eligible for the full $2,500 and receives a tax return, the student can receive up to $1,000. The credit is awarded for 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified educational expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 of educational expenses. Therefore, if a student pays at least $4,000 in educational expenses, he will receive the full $2,500.

To prove they are eligible, students must receive a 1098-T from their educational institution. A taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income must be $80,000 or less, or $160,000 or less for a married couple filing jointly to receive the full AOTC. If the student is a dependent, the taxpayer may claim the AOTC when filing taxes.

An example of someone claiming the AOTC is a parent who earns $79,900 and has a student in the first four years of a degree program. Another example of someone eligible is a student who is not a dependent of anyone and works part-time, earning $80,000 or less. If you are unsure if you or your family qualifies for this tax credit, be sure to speak with a tax advisor.

The Takeaway

IRS buildingThere are many tax credits that American taxpayers can take advantage of. These credits were created to encourage spending in specific areas of the economy and help low- and moderate-income families prosper. In addition to tax credits, there are plenty of other ways to keep more money in your pockets during tax season. Be sure to check out the IRS website to learn more about other tax credits, including the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit, Foreign Tax Credit and more.

Tips on Taxes

  • Navigating the world of tax deductions and credits can be cumbersome and confusing. That is why it is so valuable to work with a financial advisor. Finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s matching tool can connect you with several financial advisors in your area within minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Using a free tax return calculator can help confirm that you did your arithmetic correctly … or indicate that you may have missed a credit or deduction.

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